Gophers get up to speed on new offense

The team has now had eight practices this spring with its offensive system.

Sophomore quarterback Demry Croft throws the ball to another Gophers player during the first spring football practice of the year at the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex on March 10.

Maddy Fox, Daily File Photo

Sophomore quarterback Demry Croft throws the ball to another Gophers player during the first spring football practice of the year at the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex on March 10.

Mike Hendrickson

Mitch Leidner said quizzes aren’t usually his thing, but one type happens to suit him.
 
 
It’s the kind new offensive coordinator Jay Johnson gives to all of the Gophers quarterbacks.
 
 
“I love the [football] quizzes; that’s the thing,” said Leidner, Minnesota’s starting quarterback last year. “A football quiz — I could sit there and work on those all day.”
 
 
After the Gophers 8:15 a.m. team meeting on Saturday, Johnson gave Leidner and the team’s other three scholarship-quarterbacks a three-page quiz to complete. The quarterbacks and the team’s entire offense are getting up to speed on Johnson’s system this spring, as he replaced former coach Matt Limegrover.
 
 
“He forces us to learn. … We have a quiz right there, ready for us to take,” Leidner said. “We go around the room, and you got to say your answer for each question. If you’re wrong, then you get exposed, so it really forces you to learn. He forces you to master the game.”
 
 
The Gophers have had eight practices under Johnson’s new system, with six more to go until the team’s spring game on April 9.
 
 
The team is still adjusting to the offensive tweaks, but running back Rodney Smith said he’s liked what the team has done so far.
 
 
“I thought [the changes were] refreshing for the offense. As a team, especially the running schemes, I enjoy them,” Smith said. “As a backfield and as an offensive line, it’s something that is a little bit easier for us, I feel like. We just have to go out and execute. It’s getting better each day.”
 
 
Smith said the running backs are getting out in space more so far in the spring, both as runners and receivers.
 
 
“We have more perimeter plays now, and we have more things that we haven’t installed yet that get me and [running back Shannon Brooks] out at slots,” Smith said. “I feel like that’ll be really good for us as an offense, getting playmakers in space. Just moving forward, I feel like [Shannon and I] will be utilized a lot as offensive weapons.”
 
 
Head coach Tracy Claeys said Brooks and Smith have done a great job with their reads and have improved on pass-protection the most during spring ball.
 
 
“We’re still going to be a run-based football team, and they all have the skill sets to do that. That’s for sure,” Claeys said. “Those two, they could play in just about any scheme. They’re that talented. It’s more about getting the people around them to do their job to give those guys a chance.”
 
 
Johnson, who spent five seasons as an offensive coordinator at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, said the players have learned the new offense faster than he anticipated.
 
 
“We’ve tried to, in a certain sense, be very simple and go very slow because we want to work on fundamental and technique,” Johnson said. “The things we have changed, some of the terminology, they’ve done well with.”
 
 
Johnson is also the team’s quarterback coach. The Gophers incumbent starter, Leidner, has not played in scrimmages as he recovers from an offseason foot surgery.
 
 
Instead, Leidner watches sophomore Demry Croft run the offense and goes through the motions of each play to stay on top of the new system.
 
 
“It’s still a process. There’s a lot more on the quarterbacks in this offense,” Leidner said. “That part’s going to come. … Overall, I think all the guys in the quarterback room have picked it up well so far.”